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Into the Woods

From the files of the UCLA History Project


Published Jul 1, 2008 8:00 AM

It all began with a Depression-era relief project.

Eleven UCLA students organized a food drive in 1934 to benefit needy children and families living in West Los Angeles. But the student volunteers wanted to do more.

Through the efforts of several students on the board of the University Religious Conference, an outdoor summer camp was organized, and on August 3, 1935, UniCamp welcomed its first official campers.

In this 1940's photo, a young camper
focuses intently on his archery target while
others eagerly wait their turn.

The initial University Camp was scheduled with two 10-day sessions from August 3–23, 1935. With the guidance of their UCLA student-counselors — among them, future Olympian James LuValle '36, M.A. '37 — 54 children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds were invited to set up camp in the San Bernardino Mountains at Big Pines.

That first year, for just $8 each, campers 13 to 18 years old enjoyed traditional camp and educational activities that enabled them to learn from each other and the great outdoors. UniCamp leaders hoped the exposure to a new environment would empower them to explore new avenues of self-expression and strive for brighter futures.

Today, UniCamp hosts nearly 1,000 children every summer from low-income families in Los Angeles. Campers are selected in conjunction with partner social service agencies, schools and shelters, inviting them to a weeklong summer camp experience.

The program currently operates as an independent, nonprofit organization that relies on student-driven fundraising and donations from various entities on campus, as well as private businesses and community organizations. Although campers still attend UniCamp for a minimal charge, the cost to send a child to a week of camp is more than $500.

In 1948, UniCamp became UCLA's official student charity. Along the way, it benefited from financial support from the long-running (though now dormant) spring Mardi Gras fundraiser and has expanded to include multiple weeklong sessions. And this summer, for the first time, UniCamp will open its doors to paying customers: the children of former UniCamp volunteers, staff and faculty.

Around the Campfire

Want more outdoors? Check out

And for more moments in UCLA history, visit the History Project.

Over the years, thousands of campers and UCLA student-counselors have mutually benefited from UniCamp, still located in the San Bernardino Mountains. This poem, from that first session in 1935, continues to echo the UniCamp spirit:

One road leads to the mountains,
One road leads to the sea,
One road leads to the city,
But the open road for me.
There's a spell around the camp fire,
And a lure of the campers' code
That bids me take my pack sack
And follow the open road.